“Dangerous” or “Writing at Our Own Risk”

And now, the much-anticipated chronicle of… my Night of Writing Dangerously.

It all started in November of 2010 – my first National Novel Writing Month, and the beginning of my best-friendship with fellow writer Tirzah Duncan.

Fast forward to the November of 2011, when Tirzah attended her first NoWD, and dubbed it quite possibly the best night of her life.

Fast forward again (can you tell I’m the kind of writer that likes skipping past the slow parts?) to November 2012, when Tirzah and I arrived in San Francisco, she to write dangerously all over again, me to experience it for the first time.

Alright, stop – back up just a smidge. This part is worth watching.

Just before we reached San Francisco, in between stepping off of our train and stepping onto the BART (acronym for “Bay Area Rapid Transit”; more or less like a subway) that would take us toward our hostel, we stopped by the Office of Letters and Light – a.k.a., NaNo HQ.

Flashback to Tirzah of yesteryear.

Flashback to Tirzah of yesteryear.

Tirzah had visited the year before, and declared that I absolutely must drop in and say hi to any and all wonderful people behind NaNo that happened to be in the office at the time. So never mind that we’d just walked two miles carrying several pounds of stuff in the heat and the rain and looked a grand mess, drop in we did.

There were a handful of friendly faces about – including community liaison Sarah Mackey, NaNoWriMo program director Lindsay Grant, and a couple of interns whose names I feel like a failure for having forgotten. All were busy with preparation for the big night, mere days away.

Possible visitors’ reaction: “Busy? Aw. Well, I guess we’ll get out of your hair…”

Our reaction: “Busy? Ooh, ooh, how can we help you?!”

Call it our servants’ hearts, or call it a couple of NaNo fans’ wish to squeal that we had been Office of Letters and Light Elves (a term which I can’t remember whether we’d heard somewhere or coined ourselves), but even as worn out as we were, there was nothing we wanted more in that moment than to be of assistance to this worthy, word-revering nonprofit organization.

They welcomed our offer and offered water in return. We dumped our stuff in a corner, gratefully sucked down some H2O, and settled in to roll posters and stuff goody totes for the NoWD’s attendees.

Surrounded by totes and stuff with which to stuff totes, OLL Elf Tirzah displays this year’s logo of the Night.

Surrounded by totes and stuff with which to stuff totes, OLL Elf Tirzah displays this year’s logo of the Night.

OLL Elf Danielle rolls a poster, rubber band at the ready to seal the deal.

OLL Elf Danielle rolls a poster, rubber band at the ready to seal the deal.

After a few hours of light labor and cheerful chatting, Tirzah and I had to be on our way, but not before we received invitations to attend a NaNo-hosted dinner in some restaurant’s backroom the following night – a sort of pre-NoWD meet-and-greet. We were delighted to accept.

Fast forward past our phenomenal day of San Francisco sightseeing (or pause to take in the verbal-visual account of it here) to our showing up at the dinner with Jory, our fellow Wrimo friend from the hostel. While at the dinner, we made more Wrimo friends, and hobnobbed with NaNo bigwigs like Grant Faulkner, the OLL executive director. It was a good night. But it wasn’t THE Night. For that, we fast forward once more…

The shiny lobby of the Merchants Exchange Building was full of trench coats and fedoras, pinstripes and cocktail dresses, and laptops. Wall to wall writers with their laptops. Soon enough (despite what our restless anticipation may have led us to believe), we were allowed further in for cocktail hour.

Four words and a hyphen, my friends: “Bacon-wrapped shrimp” and “yum”.

Then into the Julia Morgan Ballroom we flocked, and selected tables at which to plug in our writing machines. (Tirzah and I were sure to pick a non-“Word War” table. We didn’t want to get involved in any writing races, just try to work on our novels despite all the cool distractions.) We stocked up on sweets from the candy buffet, and cashed in our raffle tickets in the hopes of winning fabulous prizes, and listened to encouraging opening remarks from the evening’s MC (that would be Sarah Mackey again). And then… the writing began!

Tirzah and a tablemate, looking dangerous.

Tirzah and a tablemate, looking dangerous.

The one piece of photographic evidence I’ve got that I (not just my camera) was actually at the event. That’s Maria hugging me, a fellow Wrimo; she took a shine to me, and was impressed by the mere rumor of my mad writing skillz. All the rumors are true, of course, but still, it’s flattering.

The one piece of photographic evidence I’ve got that I (not just my camera) was actually at the event. That’s Maria hugging me, a fellow Wrimo; she took a shine to me, and was impressed by the mere rumor of my mad writing skillz. All the rumors are true, of course, but still, it’s flattering.

Was the writing “involving or filled with danger; perilous” or “able or likely to do harm”? Heck, yeah! The hand-writers were at high risk of hand cramps! The high-speed typists might have inadvertently hit a delete key at any moment, erasing Lord only knows how many precious words! And I… – (I still shudder to recall this memory) – I at one point returned to my table from elsewhere to find that my laptop had been moved, my tablemates breaking it to me that, in my absence, someone had spilled a beverage.

Sums it up.

Sums it up.

Miraculously, I was able to get my laptop back up and running without doing anything fancier than pressing the power button. Heart attack, averted. Had I not updated the saved files on my portable flash-drive just before I left the table, this would have been a merciful wakeup call. As it is, let it stand as a reminder to us all: If it would stab your soul to lose it, back it up!

Mind you, I didn’t get a whole lot of new work done, that night; as I said, there were distractions, and, well, this was happening. Neither did I win any raffle prizes (meaning I couldn’t pull a 2011 Tirzah and be known as “The One Who Won The____” – in her case, that blank filled with “Scottish mantle”). But here’s something that did happen: While we writers were eating dinner, NaNo bigwigs were giving speeches. And during his speech, Grant Faulkner was making mention of a sampling of the wonderful things brought to the world through NaNo…and one example he cited was the best-friendship of Tirzah and Danielle.

Huzzah, she reached her word goal! Let the bell ring out and the head be crowned! ...and the, uh, tie be flung over her shoulder.

Huzzah, she reached her word goal! Let the bell ring out and the head be crowned! …and the, uh, tie be flung over her shoulder.

Yes. He spoke of us specifically. By name. In front of everybody. We were mini-celebrities!

But lest I run overlong, let us fast forward once more. Jory reached her 50,000 words, and got to ring the bell of triumph at the front of the room, to the enthusiastic applause of all. The Night came to an end, and Tirzah, Jory, and I remained behind to help clean up, Office of Letters and Light Elves even beyond the midnight hour. And then, at long and exhausted last, we walked back to the hostel. …y’know, after taking a detour to see some glowing books in the air. Just for a visually-magical finish.

We’d seen them in day’s light; now we wanted to see their light.

We’d seen them in day’s light; now we wanted to see their light.

So, what do you think? Was that account not awesome and well worth the hype? Hey, listen, if you want to make Office of Letters and Light Elves of yourselves, there’s a way for you to be a hero: Give them money. Not to be bluntly crass about it, but as I’ve mentioned, they’re a non-profit organization, and they run on donations. They appreciate every dollar they get, as do the gazillions of writers who benefit from their hard, inspirational, motivational work. Remember, people owe beloved novels and best-friendships and beautiful San Francisco trips to this. If you’re feeling generous, go for it. *ending impromptu fundraiser*

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